Thursday, February 19, 2009

Important reflections from Herman Bavinck

In my last post, I provided a selection, from an esteemed Dutch Reformed theologian, that I believe lies at the root of why the doctrine of the Trinity took so long to develop (and in a very real sense is still developing)—once again (this time from a more recent translation):

In all of these elements of revelation, of course, Scripture has not yet provided us with a fully developed trinitarian dogma. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, trans. John Vriend, p. 279.)

He then continues:

…Scripture contains all the data from which theology has constructed the dogma of the Trinity. Philosophy did not need to add anything essential to that dogma: even the Logos doctrine is part of the New Testament. It all only had to wait for a time when the power of Christian reason would be sufficiently developed to enter into the holy mystery that presents itself here. (Ibid., pp. 279, 280.)

I know that our Reformed brothers will disagree with me, but Bavinck is describing what I would term a “material sufficiency” of the Scriptures, at the very least, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity; in other words, the dogma is not explicit, but rather, implicit.

Bavinck’s reflections provide one of the important reasons why I believe that one must accept the notion of doctrinal development. It also speaks to the historical fact that we find many doctrinal trajectories emanating from one, common, ‘material’ source. An important question that one should then ask is: which trajectory is the correct one? And immediately following that question: if the common material is only implicit, by what means does the doctrine become explicit? (I would add, explicit to the point one must say that it is a necessary and irreformable dogma of the Christian Church.)


Grace and peace,

David

16 comments:

Steve said...

...why the doctrine of the Trinity took so long to develop (and in a very real sense is still developing)

This strikes me as a very natural consequence, since the object of development (in this case) is inexhaustible.

Lucian said...

Dave,

I don't get You. What You call sub-ordinationism has always been the Patristic teaching. I think Athanasius himself would've been quite surprised to find out that his teaching about sameness of nature indicates something that contradicts the teaching of all Fathers before him (Iraeneus) and after him (Basil) -- to name just two random examples. (Doesn't the Creed of Niceea itself, to which Athanasius himself obviously subscribed, say: "I believe in ONE God, the Father Almighty"? Doesn't the Great Basil himself say as much: "God is One because the Father is one"? Doesn't St. Paul say the same in Galatians 3:20 and 1 Timothy 2:5 ?)

I don't like the term "sub-ordinationism" because it fails short of explaining why the Son listens to the Father Who begat Him: it is out of self-less, self-giving, self-sacrificing, kenotic Love (Philippians 2:5-11): it's not because He's forced, or has no other choice, or He can't help it, etc. The three Divine Persons indwell eachother (perienchoresis: John 10:38; 14:10, 11, 20; 17:21) and are one in everything (1 John 5:7); and there's no contradiction between Them (John 5:30) -- and how could it be, since they all share the same essence, and will is routed in nature? (according to the teaching of Maxim Martyr and the Sixth Ecumenical Council which condemned Mono-thellism and Mono-energism).

I mean:

I don't get what You don't get: sons listen to their fathers; the Son listens to His Father: what exactly is the problem? What don't You get or understand? Am I a lesser human being than my parents because I listen to them? Or is a woman an inferior human being because she listens to her husband?

Seriously now, our doctrine is so stupidly-simple and crystal-clear that every child can understand it; the words the Bible uses are every-day concepts, and extremely intuitive. Just compare Genesis 2:24 with John 10:30 via Genesis 1:26-27.

David Waltz said...

Hello Lucian,

I could not sleep, so I thought I would check my blog. So good to see you back here at AF; although we may not always agree, I do appreciate your input.

You wrote:

>>I don't get You. What You call sub-ordinationism has always been the Patristic teaching. I think Athanasius himself would've been quite surprised to find out that his teaching about sameness of nature indicates something that contradicts the teaching of all Fathers before him…>>

Me: That is precisely my point; I do not think the issue among the Orthodox/Catholic CFs was over the nature/being of the Father’s only-begotten Son; but rather, it concerned other issues (hence the two-stage Logos theory, the single stage Logos theory, begotten vs. creation, etc.).

Since I affirm that God the Father is the fount/source of divinity, I have no problem with a certain sense of ‘subordinationism’, the Son is from the Father in a very real sense; and by ‘subordinationism’, I only mean that the Son is from the Father, not that the Son’s being/nature is inferior—God from God, light from light…

Here is my personal view: Scripture clearly teaches the subordination of the Son to the Father; the ante-Nicene Fathers struggled over the precise nature of this subordination; the Ecumenical Councils of Nicea and Constantinople (thanks to the Holy Spirit), corrected any previous misconceptions, and established, without error, the correct doctrine of the Trinity/Godhead. The dogma established is irreformable, and stands as a true standard for orthodoxy.

I sense that maybe much of our ‘disagreement’ concerns terminology, rather that actual content.


Grace and peace,

David

Lucian said...

I could not sleep, so I thought I would check my blog.

Addict! >:)

What do You mean by single-stage and dual-stage Logos theory?

David Waltz said...

Hi Lucian,

You posted:

>>Addict! >:) >>

Me: LOL…caught me! But, truth be known, I much prefer reading and working out to writing.

>>What do You mean by single-stage and dual-stage Logos theory?>>

Me: It is how some patristic scholars label the two more prominent subordinationist views of the ante-Nicene Fathers. There was a tendency to view the Logos of God as unexpressed/unuttered/ab aeterno (impersonal and internal to the Father), and then prior to creation, this Logos of God became expressed/uttered/external (personal as the Son – e.g. Tertullian, Tatian, Thephilus, Athenagoras, et al.). Irenaeus broke with this ‘tradition’, stressing the ‘eternality’ of the Son (contra Minns), God’s Logos. Origen’s doctrine of “eternal generation”, pretty much put an end to the two-stage theory.


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

David,

You wrote:

In countless books on the Trinity...that I read during my in depth study of the faith I was born into (JWs), I was constantly reminded that the doctrine of the Trinity was CLEARLY taught in the Bible.

ME: What faith is the "JWs"?

Thanks

David Waltz said...

JWs = Jehovah's Witnesses -- I was a 4th generation member until 1983.


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

David,

You wrote:

"I was constantly reminded that the doctrine of the Trinity was CLEARLY taught in the Bible."

Did you mean: 'I was constantly reminded that the doctrine of the Trinity was CLEARLY "NOT" taught in the Bible.'

Jehovah's Witnesses have always taught that the Trinity is a NOT a Bible teaching.

Thanks,

jdt

David Waltz said...

Hi jdt,

While still a Jehovah’s Witness, I began reading non-JW books (this began in 1976). My primary focus concerned the doctrine of God and Christology. I think it would be accurate to say that at least 80% of the books I was reading at that time that dealt with the doctrine of the Trinity (monographs and systematic theologies) maintained that the doctrine of the Trinity was CLEARLY taught in the Scriptures (a position, as you know, which is contrary to the teaching of the JWs). However, when I started studying the early Church Fathers, and then the nature and history of the development of doctrine, I came to realize that so many of the authors I had read were much too optimistic…


Grace and peace,

David

Ken Temple said...

David,
This just shows that there is proper development of Doctrine (The Trinity; substitutionary atonement) and that there is improper development of doctrine that actually produces additional elements of claimed revelation and hence, corrupting sound doctrine into false doctrine. (which Protestants would say the Roman Catholic dogmas are - those dogmas and doctrines that separate us.

Protestants don't deny that theological reflection on the text and time produces deeper understanding of the text and hence development of doctrine; but we deny that the Roman Catholic distinctives that separate Protestants are proper development of doctrine - they were additions and corruptions that were not valid or true or the right kind of doctrinal development; they left the text itself and started adding things.

Surely you would agree that the doctrine of the Trinity is Biblical and that the concepts or ideas are in the text, even though the words "homo-ousia" are not there, or "three hypostasis"; or "eternal generation", etc.

And surely you would agree that the texts of Scripture having to do with the doctrine of the Trinity are much more numerous, deep, and spread throughout the 66 books of the Bible; whereas the RC dogma of the IC of Mary has one text, Luke 1:28, and that is just a greeting and does not really teach what the RC claims it does. And furthermore, the Bodily Assumption of Mary has no Scripture text at all.

And the Perpetual Virginity of Mary has verses that actually contradict the concept - Matthew 1:18 "before they came together", 1:25 - "heos hou" - "until" - "kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son . . .". Also, the many texts in all four gospels that speak of "Jesus' brothers and sisters".

Anonymous said...

Ken,

You wrote:

Surely you would agree that the doctrine of the Trinity is Biblical and that the concepts or ideas are in the text, even though the words "homo-ousia" are not there, or "three hypostasis"; or "eternal generation", etc.

And surely you would agree that the texts of Scripture having to do with the doctrine of the Trinity are much more numerous, deep, and spread throughout the 66 books of the Bible;

Me: I see that David has not commented as of yet. Jehovah's Witnesses have published much information on "the doctrine of the Trinity". They show that both historically, and more importantly - scripturally - that the "doctrine of the Trinity" is NOT a Bible teaching. If you are interested, I can direct you to those works and the sources. They are quite numerous, going back to the works of Issac Newton and before.

Thanks...

Ken Temple said...

Jehovah's Witnesses have published much information on "the doctrine of the Trinity". They show that both historically, and more importantly - scripturally - that the "doctrine of the Trinity" is NOT a Bible teaching.


They did not show this at all. They have been thoroughly refuted by Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, and many others, and Rob Bowman's, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity : Answer to Jehovah's Witnesses. Dr. White's book, The Forgotten Trinity, also refutes them, as does any other good standard work on the Trinity.


If you are interested, I can direct you to those works and the sources.

I don't need any more study on that - John 1:1 by itself brings the whole JW false religion down. boom. The above mentioned works flesh it out and make it clear to me that JWs are wrong and a cult and they have already thoroughly refuted; so I have no need to investigate deeper into their false claims.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

I somehow missed your March 3rd post, in which you wrote:

>>Surely you would agree that the doctrine of the Trinity is Biblical and that the concepts or ideas are in the text, even though the words "homo-ousia" are not there, or "three hypostasis"; or "eternal generation", etc.>>

Me: The doctrine of the Trinity (and the concepts which are a part of the doctrine—e.g. homoousios, "three hypostasis", "eternal generation", et al.) can be read into the Biblical material; however, as I said in THIS RESPONSE, Dr. Brown (as well as others), is concvinced that the Biblical data is such that more than one “trajectory” (i.e. reading) can be discerned. My on going series on SUBORDINATIONISM, lends solid support to Dr. Brown’s thesis.

Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello “Anonymous”,

You wrote:

>>I see that David has not commented as of yet. Jehovah's Witnesses have published much information on "the doctrine of the Trinity". They show that both historically, and more importantly - scripturally - that the "doctrine of the Trinity" is NOT a Bible teaching. If you are interested, I can direct you to those works and the sources. They are quite numerous, going back to the works of Issac Newton and before.>>

Me: As you can probably discern from my last response to Ken, I am in agreement with Dr. Brown that the Biblical data can legitimately support more than one ‘trajectory’ (i.e. reading) concerning the doctrine of God and Christology. As such, I would say that the doctrine of the Trinity is a possible reading of the Bible; but I must in all good conscience also say that an Arian (i.e. JW) reading is also possible.

I suspect that neither you, nor Ken, will be ‘happy’ with my stance…


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again Ken,

I really should be working on that new thread that I promised, but there is a couple of more items I would like to briefly comment on before undertaking that task. You posted:

>> They did not show this at all. They have been thoroughly refuted by Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, and many others, and Rob Bowman's, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity : Answer to Jehovah's Witnesses. Dr. White's book, The Forgotten Trinity, also refutes them, as does any other good standard work on the Trinity.>>

Me: IMHO, all three of the above works are significantly deficient. When I get the time I would like to some reviews on all three…

>>I don't need any more study on that - John 1:1 by itself brings the whole JW false religion down. boom. The above mentioned works flesh it out and make it clear to me that JWs are wrong and a cult and they have already thoroughly refuted; so I have no need to investigate deeper into their false claims.>>

Me: A real eye-opener for me was Murray J. Harris’, Jesus As God. In that book he demonstrates that EVERY passage ‘traditional’ used by Trinitarians to support the FULL deity of Christ has either exegetical an/or textual difficulties.

I think that you (and others) may find the following debates and articles of interest:

In Defense of Biblical Theology


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

I was not too impressed with Murray J. Harris when he wrote his book on the resurrection and communicated something less than orthodox; as Norman Geisler pointed out.

I don't time to go back over all that; I just remember reading Geisler's book and his critique of Murray, and was amazed at what Murray was asserting.

I don't think those other books on the Trinity are deficient in the sense of not adequately expressing the biblical and orthodox historical teachings on the Trinity. They are good and adequate and sufficient.

Ken Temple

David - You are amazing in your exhausting nature of having read so much; I wish I could have done that much reading and retaining it (and exercise and stay in shape too) by now in my life.